‘I want to win’: Ikenna Enechukwu eyes the NFL Draft
There are currently six Rice football alumni on an active roster in the National Football League, and former Owl Ikenna Enechukwu is looking to make it seven. For the decorated defensive end from Kansas City, Missouri, his dreams of getting drafted to an NFL roster are getting closer while, according to Enechukwu, the intensity leading up to the NFL draft is increasing.
“The path to the draft has been crazy exciting,” Enechukwu said. “But yeah, overall just a blessing.”
After concluding his Rice career, Enechukwu turned his full focus to the NFL draft. After the 2022 season, Enechukwu was invited to the East West Shrine Bowl, one of three major collegiate All-Star games, which allows collegiate stars to showcase their skills in front of NFL scouts. Enechukwu, who was coached by the Atlanta Falcons coaching staff as a member of the East team, said it was a great opportunity to showcase his skills against the best in the country and learn from an NFL coaching staff.
“It was just a great experience to play football against some of the best,” Enechukwu said. “It was a confidence boost to throw around these Power Five guys. I know how good I am and I wasn’t worried about the logo on somebody’s helmet.”
Following the Shrine All-Star Game, Enechukwu set his sights on the NFL combine, an important event where players showcase their physical and mental attributes in front of NFL scouts, coaches and general managers. After spending two months training with X3, a training organization in Fort Myers, Florida, Enechukwu said he was ready to showcase his skills at the combine despite his limited preparation.
“I was confident,” Enechukwu said. “With the short time you have to prepare, it’s really just getting your body to optimum shape and performability to perform these drills. I felt like I was in good shape and I felt pretty much at peace.”
Enechukwu’s confidence paid off with a strong performance. He clocked his 40-yard dash in 4.70 seconds, a vertical jump of 31.5” and a broad jump of 10.0”. His 40-yard dash was the fastest time he had ever clocked and, despite not hitting his desired mark in the vertical jump, he later raised his mark at the Houston Texans Pro Day. After his performance, Enechukwu was pleased with his performance, but felt that he had more in the tank.
“I just went out there and did my best,” Enechukwu said. “I still feel like I could have gone even faster even though it was my fastest time yet. The crown achievement for me would have been to break 4.7, but it was beyond expectations, and I feel like it still turned some heads.” Enechukwu is ending his career on South Main with 122 career tackles and two Honorable Mention Conference USA All Conference honors. Enechukwu says that the difference in the talent between the Power Five and the Group of Five schools, which affects how analysts and scouts view players, is not as big as they make it out to be.
“Some people say it doesn’t make a difference, but I do think there definitely is bias towards Power Five players,” Enechukwu said. “I’ve played against both Power Five offensive linemen and Group of Five offensive linemen and I can really say there’s a lot of linemen in C-USA that are better than the USC, Arkansas and Texas [players] we played against. I think there is a chip on our shoulders, but [in the NFL], everybody is on the same playing field.”
Putting the draft preparation behind him, the waiting game has now begun for Enechukwu. With the NFL draft less than three weeks away, Enechukwu, who is projected to be a late-round pick, is not only focused on getting drafted, but on his goal of leading a team to the Super Bowl.
“I just want to be the best player I can be and see how far I can push myself,” Enechukwu said. “I started at the bottom … I didn’t come this far only to come this far. I want to be great. I want to be a top player. I want to be a captain, and most of all, I want to win and take a team to the Super Bowl and win the Super Bowl.”
More from The Rice Thresher
Reassessing 2003: What Rice’s only national championship means 20 years later
Twenty years ago this June, Rice won its only national title in a team sport, the 2003 College Baseball World Series. In the 14 years that followed, the Owls made the NCAA regionals every season. But the six years since have seen the reign of long-time head coach Wayne Graham draw to a close and the short-lived tenure of his successor, Matt Bragga, come and go, as the Owls failed to qualify for even the conference tournament in Bragga’s final year.
Farewell to C-USA, the conference that was never supposed to last this long
There’s a trophy in the Rice baseball offices. It’s from 2006, the Owls’ first season in Conference USA. On the front, it reads “C-USA 2006 Baseball Tournament Champions.” On either side are the logos of nine schools.
Please note All comments are eligible for publication by The Rice Thresher.